My Take on the News

Turning Point in the Netanyahu Investigation

Binyomin Netanyahu appeared in the Knesset this week. His expression was bland, giving no hint of what he has been going through, but something about his general demeanor was slightly broken. And that was entirely understandable: How long can he be expected to go on withstanding the constant efforts to destroy him? This week, Netanyahu lived in the shadow of the latest police probe, which was announced during his official visit to Africa. His first response to the news was to note that whenever he makes an achievement of any sort, someone always makes sure to strike a blow at him. Netanyahu asserted that the latest allegations, as usual, would turn out to be unfounded. Nothing will come of the probe, he insisted, because there is no reason for it.

Yet the media claims that this time, the situation is more complicated than usual. Those “in the know” report that Netanyahu is being investigated for accepting forbidden contributions. While the attorney general emphasized that the police are merely conducting an inquiry, not a full-fledged investigation, two senior officials hastened to inform the media – anonymously, of course – that, in practice, there is no difference.

The turning point came on Thursday, when a former aide of Netanyahu’s arrived at the airport to find two police investigators waiting for him. He was taken for questioning, and the interrogation lasted for many hours. While he was told at first that he was merely a witness, he was informed in the middle of the questioning that he himself had become a suspect and was being interrogated under warning. There is a significant difference, of course, and the sudden turnaround was an injustice to him, since a suspect has the right to remain silent under questioning, whereas a potential witness does not have that right. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, the important question now is whether the charges will end with Netanyahu’s aide or Netanyahu himself coming under fire.

Will the Aide Be Offered a Plea Bargain?

The aide who was questioned is Ari Harow, the former chief of staff in Netanyahu’s office. Harow is a businessman who frequently travels to and from the country. He was arrested on Thursday upon returning from Spain. According to the official announcements, the suspicions against Harow are connected to the sale of a consulting firm that he used to own. His attorneys refused to comment on his interrogation.

Harow was appointed to his position in March 2014, replacing Gil Shefer. From September 2014 through January 2015, he also served as Netanyahu’s deputy office manager. In January 2015, Harow resigned from his position to work in the Likud electoral council. He has already come under suspicion of criminal activity in the past, when he was suspected of making a false report concerning the sale for three million dollars of a business consulting and development firm. The police suspect that the sale was a fictitious transaction and that some of the funds were illicitly transferred to Netanyahu. An investigation against Harow was opened in December, and he was even placed under house arrest for five days.

Does the police investigation into Netanyahu relate to the same case? In all likelihood, the answer is yes, but we won’t know for certain until all the details are revealed. It is widely believed that the current police probe is focusing on donations that Netanyahu received from foreign businessmen in 2009, after his election as prime minister. Harow’s connection is that he served in the past as the director-general of the Friends of the Likud, which financed some of the Netanyahu family’s travels abroad and raised funds for Netanyahu. As a result, everyone is certain that the case against Harow is connected to the probe against Netanyahu.

Once again, the question is to what extent Netanyahu will actually beaffected by these events. Even if Harow has some incriminating information about Netanyahu, will he keep it to himself or will he disclose it? And what will Harow do if the police find incriminating evidence against him and he is offered clemency in exchange for incriminating Netanyahu? In that scenario, there is a realistic possibility that the government will fall.

my-take-on-the-news-1_03In any event, if I have understood correctly, there are suspicions of money laundering and the filing of false reports with the government. The question now is whether this investigation will move on to the next step.

Water Meters and Chillul Shabbos

This past week, Yaakov Asher, former mayor of Bnei Brak and current member of the Knesset, spoke in the Knesset Economics Committee about the digital water meters that are infringing on the rights of Shabbos-observant citizens in the State of Israel. The “smart” meters, Asher declared, cause citizens to engage in indirect chillul Shabbos whenever they open the taps in their homes. “The option must be given in every city for water meters that are approved for Shabbos use to be installed, and every consumer must have the right to have a mechanical meter installed at no additional cost,” he insisted.

Hearing Asher’s words, I was reminded that Yaakov Margi has already raised this subject. When Margi brought up the issue, it was in response to reports about a chareidi institution that wished to rent the Neot Avraham school in Arad for Shabbos, and asked the school administration to freeze the digital meter in advance of their stay. In Arad, the local water company will neutralize the meter for the duration of Shabbos, albeit for a hefty fee. Margi queried the Minister of Infrastructure, Yuval Steinitz, on the subject.

I will quote Steinitz’s response, with the caveat that I do not understand exactly what he said. He began by listing the advantages of the new digital meters, which can transmit information to the water authority from a distance. Then he said, “It should be stressed that in light of the importance of the subject to the observant community as well, the manufacturers of the water meters have been instructed to collaborate with recognized institutes, such as the Tzomet Institute and Rabbi Halperin, in order to adapt the systems so their operation will not cause consumers to violate the Shabbos. At the same time, in some portions of the chareidi community, there is a desire to observe the halachah to a higher standard, and for that purpose they have requested a different type of meter. In their view, these are the only meters that will make it possible for them to use water on Shabbos and chagim without concern that they may be violating the Shabbos.

“For that purpose,” Steinitz continued, “the Water Authority has worked to determine the additional costs to those who are interested in these meters. Based on the Water Authority’s research, the additional cost of a meter of this type – whose installation occasionally entails making technical changes in the infrastructure and the manner in which the water meters are installed – has been estimated to be about 230 shekels per meter. This is in addition to the overall cost of providing water, as it is an additional service for specific customers only.

“According to our understanding,” he concluded, “there are two possible arrangements to fund the installation of these meters. One is that the customer may request the installation of a ‘mehudar’ meter from his water provider, and he will then be charged directly for the cost of its installation. The other possibility is for a special allocation of government funding to be made for this purpose, just as the government of Israel has a special budget earmarked for the benefit of specific groups who are entitled to discounts on their water bills. This way, an appropriate response will be given to consumers who are interested in a mehudar water meter, without it adding to the cost of water for the public as a whole.”

I cannot say that I fully grasped his intent, but it seems to me that Steinitz has offered two possibilities: Either the customer must pay for the meter directly, or the funding will come out of the chareidi parties’ coalition funds, which are used to support institutions of Torah learning. Either way, it doesn’t sound good.

Tefillin at the Entrance to Yerushalayim

There is an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, the picture is the entire story. Just before Shabbos, I drove from Givat Shaul to central Yerushalayim via Rechov Sorotzkin, on an errand to deliver an aid package to a needy family. I planned to return home immediately after dropping off the package. As I passed the traffic signal at Center One, my companion in the car said, “You missed it.”

“What did I miss?” I asked.

“At the exit of our neighborhood, next to the bus stop, there were two boys who looked like disaffected youths, who were selling bouquets of flowers. One of them, with a particularly wild-looking haircut, was wearing tefillin. I was certain that you would stop to take a picture of them.”

I resolved to pay careful attention on our return trip. If the boy was still wearing tefillin, I would certainly take a picture. On our way back to Givat Shaul, I saw that the boy with the outlandish haircut was no longer wearing tefillin, but now the tefillin were on his friend. I pulled up beside the two youths. It was clear from their appearance that they were far from standard yeshiva bochurim. Nevertheless, these two boys still made sure to observe the mitzvah of tefillin, and they were hurrying to fulfill the mitzvah even at this late hour. So even if there aren’t a thousand words here, there is still a good deal to see in this picture: two young men, both of them bareheaded and without much visible connection to Yiddishkeit, hurrying to put on tefillin before it was too late. It is a sign of the beauty of a Jewish soul, even one buried beneath layers of apathy.

The State of Israel vs. Elisha

This week, I met a father and son who came to seek my help with a certain legal issue their family is facing. The boy, Elisha Yered, was handed an administrative order from Major General Roni Numa of the Central Command ordering him to be distanced from his home in Yitzhar, from his school, and from the entirety of Yehuda and the Shomron. I found the wording of the order somewhat peculiar, since his home in Yitzhar and his school are also located within Yehuda and the Shomron, and I could not understand the need to order him to stay away from those locations if he was banned from the entire area anyway. But one may not ask questions regarding military matters…

In any event, since Elisha’s parents care about their child, they had no choice but to leave home along with him. “Our son had nowhere to go,” they told me, “so we had to take our entire family into exile along with him.” In other words, the order isn’t only against Elisha Yered; it is against Elisha, his parents, and his five siblings. I wondered if perhaps that was the intent of the order. Furthermore, the family claimed that since the order had been issued without a hearing of any sort, they had not been given the opportunity to defend themselves. They have no idea what accusations have been leveled against their son, and they therefore have no way to respond.

An “Innocent” Questionnaire

The Reform movement is continuing its campaign against the religious populace, as it keeps demanding more and more recognition. The controversy surrounding the Kosel shows no sign of abating anytime soon. The Supreme Court has yet to issue its ruling on the subject, and there is no telling what that verdict will be.

On that note, there is an organization known as “Al Mishmar HaKnesset,” which monitors the work of the Knesset members and works to expose any dealings behind the scenes to the public. For example, they recently publicized the identity of the “most socialist” member of the Knesset. On the surface, there does not seem to be anything wrong with what they do, but just as we all know to check the fine print before signing a contract or purchasing an appliance, these organizations also warrant careful scrutiny.

While I can’t identify exactly what is wrong about the organization’s work, I do know that nothing good can come out of an evil source. The members of the Knesset and the ministers of the cabinet recently received a letter from a subsection of the organization, this time calling itself the “Citizens’ Monitor,” which asked them to fill out a personal questionnaire. “This is a questionnaire on the subject of marriage and divorce,” the letter informed them. “We know that the topic is sensitive and the nature of the questions is personal. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, it is very important that you answer the questions.” I read through the questions and discovered that they were quite insulting. Upon reviewing some of the organization’s writings, I finally found a key piece of information: It was founded by the Conservative movement. With that, I understood everything.

Moshe Kachlon’s View of the World

Last week, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon was in the spotlight in the Knesset plenum during a “question hour.” This was an event for which seventeen members of the Knesset – a relatively large number – submitted questions in advance and then presented them in the Knesset plenum, with Kachlon responding to the questions one by one. From time to time, the exchanges degenerated into embarrassing verbal clashes. Kachlon, who is usually entertaining, occasionally became harsh and impatient, although his reactions may have been justified. (Incidentally, Kachlon recently declared that if he does not succeed in lowering the price of housing in Israel, he will not run in the upcoming elections. We hope that he will succeed, since the cost of housing is one of the most pressing issues afflicting the country.)

I took notes on some of the exchanges. Ahmed Tibi, the Arab member of the Knesset, questioned Kachlon about construction for the Arab sector, and the Minister of Finance delivered a lengthy response. At a certain point, Kachlon began reeling off specific numbers. “In 2015, we approved 16,000 residential units for the Arab sector, and in 2016 we will be approving another 15,000.”

At that point, Tibi interrupted him. “Your staff can give me the details later,” he said.

“They sent me all the information now,” Kachlon said.

“I noticed that you were looking at your phone,” Tibi responded.

“Of course,” said the finance minister. “Did you think that I was clairvoyant?”

“Thank you, Mr. Minister,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein interrupted the exchange. “His predecessor also used technology very well,” he remarked.

my-take-on-the-news-2_03Itzik Shmuli, the next questioner, attacked the Ministry of Finance for “abusing” the disabled, who have suffered from insurance cuts. Kachlon responded angrily, “I am the Minister of Finance; I am not a doctor. Am I the one who decides who is considered disabled?” Shmuli, a young member of the Knesset, was one of the student leaders of the protests over the high cost of living in Israel; those protests catapulted him into the Knesset. He is viewed as having a socialist ideology, and he belongs to Yitzchok Herzog’s party.

“Okay, that is an evasive response, but I will ask you another question,” Shmuli said.

“What do you mean ‘evasive’?” Kachlon demanded. “Do you truly believe that someone in the Finance Ministry decides on the definition of disability? Are you making a joke?”

“I will tell you what I believe,” Shmuli replied. “I believe that you abandoned these people long ago. Now, I have only one more minute to ask my question, so please let me finish….”

“No way!” Kachlon shot back. “Itzik, I know that this subject is your agenda, but you also have to get your facts straight from time to time.”

“I do have my facts straight,” Shmuli insisted.

“There has been no reduction in benefits to the disabled or the elderly since I became the Minister of Finance, certainly not through regulation, and there will not be such a reduction,” Kachlon said. “And I don’t need a certificate of approval from you!”

“I am not giving you my approval…”

“You would have to live 400 years to do what I have done for the elderly, for the disabled, and for the weaker population,” Kachlon continued.

“All right, all right, I heard you,” Shmuli said, backing down.

“You heard me,” Kachlon repeated.

“Instead of attacking me, please answer my questions,” Shmuli added.

“There will be no harm to the elderly or the disabled as long as I am in this position,” Kachlon repeated, “and I think that is what has taken place until now. And once again, I don’t need anyone’s approval.”

If the above seems like an excessively long exchange, allow me to inform you that it was even worse: I quoted less than half of it…

Menachem Eliezer Moses began his own question by addressing the Knesset Speaker, who is engaged to be married. “At your aufruf, we will all participate in your simcha tomorrow, be’ezras Hashem,” he said.

“Not tomorrow. Next week,” Edelstein corrected him.

“Next Monday, yes. I apologize,” Moses said.

“Zerizim makdimim,” Edelstein replied humorously.

Moses moved on to his question for Kachlon: “What does the minister plan to do so that mayors of cities will begin designating a certain percentage of available housing for chareidim? Many chareidi couples are packed into tiny apartments built in storage rooms and parking spots. What will be done for them? We congratulate you on having managed to sell over 12,000 residential units through the Mechir Lamishtaken program in the north and the center of the country: in Kiryat Eliezer in Haifa, in Kiryat Bialik, in Tirat Carmel, in Midgal Ha’Emek, in Karmiel, in Yerucham, and virtually everywhere.”

“You should add Beit Shemesh,” Kachlon said. “In Beit Shemesh the chareidim got apartments.”

“Nevertheless,” Moses continued, “out of all those apartments that were sold, not a single apartment was for chareidim.”

“The chareidim have already received 586 apartments,” Kachlon interjected.

Moses continued reading from the paper he held in his hand. “How do I know this? Because all these apartments are in high-rise buildings, buildings that lack sukkah porches and are unfit for Shabbos. Yet the Minister of Housing stood here and announced that the chareidi populace today is entitled to no less than 20 percent of the housing available to combat the shortage.”

Kachlon responded, “You know my view of the world: The chareidim are part of our country, and an important part, like all the other citizens. They, too, deserve housing solutions. We put out tenders for 586 units in Beit Shemesh, which we presumed would have the character of a chareidi neighborhood. Mayors don’t like it very much when you come into their cities and build a neighborhood with a specifically chareidi character; they tell you that everyone should live together. But I understand that you can’t live in an apartment building with more than four stories, since you won’t use Shabbos elevators, and you also want to live within a certain environment, with shuls, mikvaos, and all your legitimate needs being met. We are marketing housing for everyone, and there are a few places where we do take the chareidi community’s needs into consideration. In places where there is no great opposition from the mayors, of course, we push for it and we support it, since we do need to address the needs of the chareidi population. I feel that this is to the credit of that specific city that I mentioned, but that is only my personal view. Nevertheless, you will soon see that homes will be marketed to the Arab sector and the chareidi sector as well, and to all the populations with certain needs that extend beyond an ordinary apartment building. That is what we are accomplishing now.”

One final quote from the session: Yael Cohen-Paran remarked that Rambam Hospital has been requesting an allocation of 40 million shekels from the Finance Ministry for several years already, and it has yet to receive the needed funds. To that, Kachlon responded indignantly, “I gave them 30 million shekels a few months ago, and I know nothing about this. That is surprising, considering that I speak with the hospital director at least once a week. I will call him today.”

my-take-on-the-news-3_07Is Anyone a Paramedic?

In chutz la’aretz, you have emergency first response organizations such as Hatzolah and Shomrim. Here in Eretz Yisroel, we have an emergency medical organization known as Ichud Hatzolah, or United Hatzolah. Everyone in the country is familiar with the organization, and everyone has the greatest respect for it. Like many others, I recently read the announcements in the newspaper about the first aid courses being organized by Ichud Hatzolah, and like many others, I turned the page to look for a more interesting story. When would I ever have the need to perform first aid?

Last Shabbos, at our regular Daf Yomi shiur before Minchah in the Pressburg shul, the maggid shiur suddenly let out a shout, “Is anyone here from Hatzolah?” He was the only one who had noticed an elderly man sitting off to the side, with his head drooping. His face had turned blue, and he was barely breathing. Fortunately, there was a member of Hatzilah in the shul, and he quickly tended to the man while an ambulance was summoned. I stood helplessly on the side, murmuring perakim of Tehillim as I watched the paramedic at work. From now on, I will have a different perspective when I read about the courses being offered by Hatzolah.

“Ordinary” Jews, Extraordinary Actions

In conclusion, here are two stories from our local shul.

One of our mispallelim, Nosson Nota, does not like to lead the davening. There is no overt reason for his reluctance: He doesn’t stammer, he enunciates his words effectively, and he is no less bashful than the average person. It appears that he simply suffers from stage fright. He agrees to take the amud only when he has a yahrtzeit, and even then only for Mussaf.

This past week – on Shabbos, no less – Nosson Nota appeared at the amud. Incredibly, there was no need for anyone to remonstrate with him to lead the davening, nor was there any apparent reason for him to do so. In fact, he even began leading the davening at the Kaddish Derabbonon before Pesukei Dezimrah, and he continued past Shochein Ad. Naturally, a number of men approached him after davening to find out the reason for his uncharacteristic behavior.

Nosson Nota explained that he had a guest for Shabbos – his first son-in-law – and he realized that the young man would be arriving in shul very late, perhaps even when the kehillah would be approaching Shemoneh Esrei. Nosson Nota had decided to lead the davening in order to spare his son-in-law from embarrassment: When the young man entered the shul, he would find his father-in-law standing at the amud with his back to the entrance, and he would undoubtedly be relieved.

Our second story is about a gentleman whom we will call Betzalel. This Shabbos, Betzalel left his home late for Minchah and rushed madly toward the shul. “I have never been late for Kerias HaTorah at Minchah on Shabbos,” he gasped to his companion, Feivel, who was barely managing to keep up with him. “I am certain that I will make it there on time today as well.” Betzalel’s confidence seemed to be contradicted by the late hour, and Feivel doubted that his prediction would come true, but he chose to remain silent. Meanwhile, Betzalel raced down the street at an impressive speed; it was hard to believe that he is a man who rarely climbs more than four steps without resting in between.

When Betzalel rushed into the shul, he found a fellow named Minkowitz reciting the brachos over his aliyah. Betzalel nearly burst into tears; Minkowitz is a Yisroel, and if he was beginning his aliyah, it seemed that the first two aliyos had already gone by. You can imagine that Betzalel was overjoyed to hear the baal kriah reading from the beginning of the parshah. He soon realized that there were no kohanim present, and Minkowitz had been called up in place of a kohein.